Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of my favourite fall-back meals when there is nothing else to eat in the fridge. All you really need is some dried pasta, cured pork, good cheese and a fresh egg to pull off a delightfully rich and satisfying meal. It's one of those dishes where less is more, so forget about making an involved cream sauce.
Carbonara sauce is simply a mixture of egg, cheese, and olive oil whisked together. Adding the hot pasta to the mixture melts the cheese and starts to set the egg, making a thick creamy sauce that clings to every strand of spaghetti like bark on a tree. The fried guanciale batons add texture and an immense amount of flavor, making pasta carbonara a dish with about the highest reward to effort ratio I can think of.
Of course, as with anything so simple, the quality of each ingredient is critical. Since the egg straddles the border between raw and cooked, you should be very confident that your eggs are fresh and safe. Ideally you're getting your eggs from a local farm that you trust, but I've had good luck with Eggland's Best Cage Free Eggs.
For the cheese, a nutty aged Pecorino Romano is ideal, but Parmigiano-Reggiano will do in a pinch. Just please do yourself a favor and avoid the green can of Kraft. I grew up on the stuff and remember dumping it on everything I could, but since discovering the joys of freshly grated real cheese I haven't once looked back.
Guanciale isn't the easiest thing to find, but if you can get your hands on some, it makes a world of difference in Spaghetti Carbonara. If you can't find it, Pancetta makes a descent substitute, and if you're in a real bind, a slab of bacon will do. I say slab because you want to hand cut your choice of meat into thick meaty batons for the full effect.
While this authentic pasta carbonara is good as is, I'm not one to leave well enough alone, so I like adding a slow cooked egg on top. If you've never had one before, slow cooked eggs are made by cooking an egg in its shell in a 146 degree F water bath for 45 minutes. A Sous Vide Supreme or thermal circulator make it easy to make, but you can also make them with a heavy bottomed pot and a instant read thermometer. The rich custardy egg on a bowl of piping hot Spaghetti Carbonara is better than sex!
- Boil a large pot of well salted water, then cook the pasta according to the package directions. For dried spaghetti I usually boil the noodles for 8 minutes rather than the 9 recommended on the package to ensure they are al dente.
- Combine the Pecorino, egg, olive oil and black pepper in a large bowl and whisk together until the mixture is smooth and there are no clumps of egg whites.
- Chop the Guanciale into batons and add to a pan over medium high heat and fry until cooked through.
- Drain the pasta (do not rinse), then immediately dump it into the egg mixture. It's important that the pasta be very hot, otherwise the egg mixture won't thicken into a sauce. Add the fried Guanciale and toss to coat evenly. Plate your Spaghetti Carbonara and top with a slow cooked egg.